Spitalfields Music: ‘Sound House’

Spitalfields Music
‘Sound House’
The Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments, Jon Nicholls
The Octagon, Queen Mary University of London. 8 December 2016

Music by Jon Nicholls, Tobias Hume, William Lawes, William Byrd, Thomas Tomkins, Orlando Gibbons.

WP_20161208_18_44_05_Pro.jpgFor many years now, Spitalfields Music has been spreading its wings way beyond its original home in Spitalfields, both for its major programme of community work and for venues for its musical and other performances. It is now a major arts and community organisation covering the whole of the East End of London. Among the venues for this year’s winter festival (which included a hidden Masonic Temple) was The Octagon, built in 1887 as part of the grand premises of the People’s Palace, described in The Times on its opening as a “happy experiment in practical Socialism”. It is now the home of Queen Mary University of London. The architect, ER Robson (best known for his influential school designs), used the British Museum Reading Room for inspiration in designing the octagonal library.

Image result for Bacon Sound housesMore ‘happy experiments’ were in evidence in the programme ‘Sound House’ given by The Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments (SSAI). It was based on the 17th century scientific writings and acoustic experiments of Francis Bacon, as described in his posthumously published Sylva Sylcarum and New Atlantis. In the latter vision of a new society, Bacon promoted the idea of Sound Houses where his acoustic experiments could be continued and better appreciated by the populace. Bacon’s musical ideas might seem commonplace today, not least through the medium of electronics and manipulated sound, and his experimental approach to sound is a key feature of many musicians today.

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Spellweaving: Ancient music from the Highlands of Scotland

Ancient music from the Highlands of Scotland
Barnaby Brown, Clare Salaman, Bill Taylor
Delphian DCD34171. 74’37

DCD34171_coverHindorõdin hindodre (One of the Cragich),
Cumha Mhic Leòid (McLeod’s Lament),
Fear Pìoba Meata (The Timid Piper),
Cruinneachadh nan Sutharlanach (The Sutherlands’ Gathering),
Hiorodotra cheredeche (a nameless pibroch),
Port na Srian (The Horse’s Bridle Tune),
Pìobaireachd na Pàirce (The Park Pibroch),
Ceann Drochaid’ Innse-bheiridh (The End of Inchberry Bridge).

Opening with the sound of a rowing boat, seagulls and breaking waves is just the start of an extraordinary aural journey exploring the ancient music and instruments of the Scottish highlands. This recording, and its related research activities, aim to trace the evolution of ‘pibroch’ (pìobaireachd), translating as ‘what the piper does’. One thing a piper probably did not do was to use such a vast range of instruments to perform the music. For another part of their project involves studying the ‘Strange and Ancient’ instruments of our musical past. And so, rather than an hour of traditional bagpipes, we have the haunting sounds of a vulture bone flute (copied from an 30,000 year old original), a Highland clarsach (20-string harp) wire and gut stringed lyres (from originals found at Sutton Hoo and Sweden), a medieval fiddle, hurdy-gurdy and, perhaps most unusually, a Hardanger fiddle, an instrument dating back only to the mid 17th century. I doubt that these instruments were well known to Highland pipers or, indeed, collectively, by anybody in pre-modern days. Continue reading